We're in the wind-down of the Michael Jackson saga -- I actually saw a non-Michael story on CNN a little while ago, although "The View" is doing a "Remembering Michael" thing. So here's the question: Whose death will next get this degree of coverage? ...
Michael offered news media a combination of being a compelling entertainer, nostalgia (Jackson 5 going back 40 years, "Thriller" a quarter-century), social/political import (how many times did they run "We Are the World" and the Michael/Reagan clip?), trailblazing (his MTV breakthrough) and the weird stuff which made him eerily fascinating even to people who never bought one of his recordings. He also died during the peak of the tabloid/MSM/cable-news/online news storm, making this seem like even more of a phenomenon than Elvis's passing -- which predated CNN and the Internet.
I would think the next such storm of coverage would involve the death of a former president, since that is something of global import, and it gives news orgs a chance to act as if they still care about heavy-duty news. But I don't expect to see Bill Clinton or George W. Bush on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
Bob Dylan is certainly an important figure in music, and one who influenced generations as well as affecting politics. But he doesn't offer a "Billie Jean"-like clip that offers instant nostalgia across pop boundaries; he had his commercial moments but not like Michael's.
Paul McCartney is, I think, a major contender. After that, I don't know. Bono? Springsteen?
A friend suggested Madonna. Certainly a possibility as a commercial phenomenon, a tabloid subject, a video auteur. But I don't think she brings the sociopolitical elements tied to Michael.
I know it will sound insane, but when I look 10, 15 years down the cultural road, I wonder if Justin Timberlake has Michael potential. He has sold a lot of CDs, he's a solid performer, he has proven via "Saturday Night Live" that he is not just a singer, he makes movies at times, and he has offered more than a few morsels to the gossip biz. If he keeps things going, he could well be seen as iconic a decade from now.
Anyone else want to weigh in?